1997 a boy child is born.
My wife and me were pretty smug. We already had a daughter, now we had the full set. The new arrival appeared healthy and happy, quite a bundle of fun.
There are those who will tell you that the more children you have the easier it is, it’s not true, having two was more like having 40. There was also the issue that, unlike my daughter who had settled into a routine after 6 months, my son didn’t sleep through the night AT ALL for two and a half years! The end of the 90’s passed in a state of semi psychosis, if there had been a world war during this period I would have missed it, luckily it did mean Britpop largely passed me by.
Naturally we got ourselves down to the doctors pretty pronto to put my name down for a vasectomy. The great day eventually came and I went for my first ever operation. I had no time for nerves, this was one of the best days of my life, I was off work and I had no childcare responsibilities. Anyone who has had young children will appreciate the sheer bliss that exists from being without them for a while, my op seemed to be delayed but I was happy, just me, a bed, a hospital gown, and a good book.
My chosen reading matter was Nina Antonia’s biography of Peter Perrett. I had bought this from a proper bookshop and it had cost me a bit. Pre internet (in my house anyway) there was precious little information to be had on anyone who was not fit to grace Q magazine, who seemed to feature Pink Floyd every week anyway . Perrett had effectively been missing for over 15 years, I wanted to find out where he was.
Perrett’s band the Only Ones had been huge favourites of mine in the post punk years. I had seen their 12 inch single ‘Lovers of Today’ in the window of a Norwich record shop and had been impressed at how guitarist John Perry seemed to be wearing some sort of body stocking which I would subsequently realise would make him look rather like a character from the comedy series ‘Little Britain’. This was, in fact to prove to be one of the all-time great singles of the 70’s but it wasn’t until their first album that the public in general started to pay any attention. Journalist Nick Kent was an enthusiastic supporter and once you had made the NME the world was your Lobster.
The Only One’s were a rock band. They were a bit older (but not that much) than the punks. Perrett was from South London where he was rubbing shoulders with the nascent Squeeze. He had previously fronted England’s Glory who achieved enough interest to record some demo’s but nothing else. What was notable about the band from the press’s point of view was how good Perrett was at aping Lou Reed. Strange to imagine now, but Reed was a huge musical and cultural influence in the mid to early 70’s. If you liked Lou Reed you were probably OK.
Post England’s Glory Perrett recruited John Perry to play Bass. The reason for this is he had Squeeze’s Glen Tilbrook along to play lead guitar. Tilbrook always comes across as a nice, well balanced chap (and a very underrated guitarist), naturally he didn’t last, Perry took over on lead guitar.
For the rhythm section Perrett further signalled that the band would be filed under ‘Rock’. On drums was Mike Kellie, a seasoned professional who had started with 60’s band Spooky Tooth and more recently had backed France’s only rock and roll star Johnny Halliday. The Bass player was even more 60’s. Alan Mair had been in a band that really were the Scottish Beatles. Pre the internet age it was possible to be huge in Scotland yet unknown south of Carlisle. The Beatstalkers were massive, playing to screaming teenagers in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen (probably). The population of Scotland is not enough to sustain a career however and Mair had been running a clothing stall in a London Market where at one point he employed no less than Freddie Mercury.
Band in place the Only Ones followed the typical rock trajectory of playing everywhere with the hope of getting signed to a big label. CBS took them on and their slide into obscurity began.
Their first LP cunningly called ‘The Only Ones’ was a bit of a gem despite the useless 60’s cover. The whole appeal of the band was set from the opening track ‘The Whole of the Law’
I used to have the notion
I could swim the length of the Ocean
If a knew you were waiting for me
Yes it’s pretty much 50’s pop pap but the group invest the song with such a sense of opiated beauty the lyrics are almost immaterial, it’s another of those songs that is greater than the sum of it’s parts, wrapped up by a pre Baker Street sax solo from Raphael Ravenscroft.
And that’s pretty much the appeal of the Only Ones, simple lyrics with the odd twist to catch the attention, simple (but not too simple) chord sequences and some shit hot playing. Every now and again the band would approximate a punky thrash a bit like Chrissy Hynde would trot out with the Pretenders which was ok but they weren’t the Clash. The band were also at risk of drifting over completely into rock, Kellie had a cowbell and was going to use it. Closing side one is rock epic The Beast where Perrett seems to have put in a bit of work on the lyrics spinning a tale of the Beast for which it’s pretty to read addiction.
Run from the Beast,
There’s danger in his eyes
He’s been looking for you, for a long time.
The Only One’s debut is also noteworthy for that other drug song (there’s only 10 on the record), ‘Another Girl Another Planet’. This track has just about eclipsed everything else the band did. That’s a terrific shame, it’s a great song but the band are about so much more. Suffice to say though, if Perrett had heard the Vibrators ‘Whips and Furs’ at this point he might owe someone some money.
Another year of tours and another album. ‘Even Serpents Shine’ was, if anything a better record, perhaps less highs but more constancy, it sounded like an album. Produced by Perrett and Mair the band had recruited Who Keyboard player ‘Rabbit’ Bundrick to fill the gaps and Perrett had come up with some of his best material including the beautiful ‘In Betweens’.
The cracks were beginning to show though ‘Out There in the Night’ is a sugary concoction apparently written after Perret went search for his cat (really!). It was released as a single and the vultures began to gather.
Later that year I saw the band for the first time. It was at the Glastonbury Festival, a ramshackle affair which was demonstrated that during a blistering set they blew the Sound system twice. On the second occasion Perry lit an enormous joint and waved us goodbye.
The band had two problems which were entwined. The first was Perrett himself. A completely spoiled bastard, Perrett was used to being the centre of attention and his needs came first. The rather touching exception to this is his long term relationship with his wife Zena Kakoulli whom he had married when they were both teenagers. Kakoulli over time was to become his backing vocalist, manager and carer in a relationship that endured against the odds. Apart from that it was Peter’s world. Perrett was as sharp as knife, he was an accomplished poker player, he was an even better drug dealer, he liked to pit his wits against anyone who wanted to take him on, and win . The second problem of course were that the drugs were slowly taking over. Mair was occupying the Roger Daltrey role in the band while the rest of the band were slowly unravelling. Rather than running from the beast Perrett had pretty much invited it in for a saucer of milk. There was something slightly unpleasant in the band’s world of drugs though. The likes of Ronnie Wood could sustain a party vibe whatever the substances but the Only Ones just seemed to become more elite distant, unpleasant and selfish.
Added to these difficulties was the fact that he band were not selling what CBS thought they should be and when drugs become more important than the music the record company takes over. The band’s final record ‘Baby’s Got a Gun’ was a huge disappointment to me and everyone else, there’s a duet with Pauline from Penetration with SINGLE stamped across it. There is even a track on which Perrett doesn’t sing (and it’s not the worst track on the album).
There was inevitably the drug fuelled tour of America where Perrett deliberately drove his car into a parking attendant, the band had to run and that was the end of the Only Ones.
Perrett spent the next couple of decades holed up on the house his parents had left him. He made a solo album but never followed it up. His other activities began to catch up with him. The house was extensively fortified to prevent attacks of police raids. The family might have to decamp at short notice. John Perry reported visiting Perrett week after week where it appeared the latter had not changed clothes or even moved position, their life had become an even more joyless version of the film Performance.
Time is a great healer, if you can live long enough, and in 2005 Mair had persuaded the band they could reunite. I went to see them at a local venue, disappointingly a smaller one to the one originally booked. I wanted to grab passers by and point out one of the greatest bands of all times was about to perform, I genuinely did not understand why everyone did not want to see the Only Ones one more time. As the band opened with ‘Lovers of Today’ it was simply magnificent, I had to wipe away a tear.
That was until Perret started singing. His voice had shot up an octave. Suspiciously he was blowing his nose a lot, also despite the hair dye, false teeth and enormous shades here was a wizened man. The rest od the band had aged pretty well but Perrett had shrunk in every respect, even his guitar seemed too big for him. I have to say that despite that it was a great gig but that was almost in spite of Perrett rather than due to him. It was a bit like a Brian Wilson concert were the music is sublime but the artist is not, you can’t have one without the other but really you wouldn’t care too much if you couldn’t hear Wilson singing or if he never plonked another note on his piano.
Again, the band fell apart, there was a suspicion that Perrett was still up to his old ways which might include taking the Lion’s share of the money. It appears that he did, at some point, stop heroin but fell straight into crack use (who could have seen that coming). Zena, after years of providing for her husband had also fallen deeply into drug use. Today apparently, they both have COPD, basically an incurable lung disease as a result of too much smoking of just about everything
It’s weird how time changes us. Not long after their ‘comeback’ I re read the Nina Antonia book. At this point I had had over 10 years of being a parent, I had also had over 10 years’ experience of working in the alcohol and drugs field, I was a different person.
I re-read about how the couple had had two sons who, thanks to Zena, they were able to raise in their fortress house visited by dealers. Eventually Social Services were involved, perhaps it was not right to grow up in this environment, perhaps it was wrong to have to wake the kids in the night to move them somewhere safer on occasions, and perhaps it was right that social services should investigate the safety of the two boys. In the end of course, nothing happened. The two boys are now men, musicians themselves and unsurprisingly they have had their own issues with addiction, hopefully they have all come through it now. But what had chilled me, which I had missed the first time round was Perrett saying that while they were under investigation he had obtained the address of the Worker ‘just in case’ she tried to have them removed.
I realised that I had just about had enough of wasted Junkie glamour bollocks. Every Junkie is someone’s father or son or brother or sister and it’s the 3rd parties who are the real victims, drug takings pretty selfish and I had had enough of it.
Naturally I should have thrown all my Only Ones memorabilia away in a grand gesture. I did sell the book on Amazon, it was still pretty hard to get hold of and worth a couple of quid. The music was harder to forget. The best record the band ever made is probably The Peel sessions CD where you can hear the band virtually live, even the ‘Baby’s Got a Gun’ material sounds pretty good.
I’ve still got that CD and yes, they were one hell of a band.